Of the many genres of photography that exist today, street photography may be one of the most difficult to define and the most open to interpretation. Is it candid portrait photography in an urban setting? Is it a snapshot of everyday life as we know it? Is it something more abstract meant to capture the emotion of a scene? In short, yes, yes, yes and then some.
Regardless of how you, the photographer, choose to tackle the subject, street photography is an excellent medium for any aspiring photographer to practice. With it comes a deeper understanding of your camera in order to dial in optimal settings on the fly, hands-on experience working with constantly changing light and scenery, and perhaps most importantly, it trains your eye to discern photo-worthy moments in a split second. No matter what camera equipment you have to work with, anyone can capture stunning street photos in the right environment. If you enjoy my street photography and want to create your own, the following are a few of my favorite street photography locations in Tokyo.
One of Tokyo’s wealthiest shopping districts, Ginza, is the perfect location for any budding street photographer. On Sundays and holidays between April and September, Ginza’s bustling Chuo Dori street is completely closed off to vehicles. The result is several large city blocks of purely foot traffic in front of a backdrop of beautiful architecture and distant skyscrapers.
In large urban environments like Tokyo, photos of people standing in a road completely devoid of cars tends to have an eye-catching effect. Add to this the fact that many of Ginza’s shoppers love to sport unique, high-fashion clothing and you have a recipe for some truly memorable photos.
For a change of perspective, several of Ginza’s taller building have catwalks or roof decks which are freely accessible to the public. Street photos from high above can add an impressive sense of scale to any city scene.
The Alleyways of Asakusa
As home to Tokyo’s oldest shrine, Senso-ji, Asakusa is rife with the energy and charm needed for excellent street photos. That being said, unless your goal is to take pictures of tourists packed shoulder to shoulder, I suggest avoiding the actual Senso-ji area. Instead, venture out past the covered shopping arcade known as Nakamise Dori in search of a bit more genuine local flavor.
The streets just outside the tourist hot zone are dense with standing bars and open-air izakaya (traditional Japanese pubs). This is a great opportunity to take in some authentic ambiance and capture a sense of how the locals live. During the summer, you may also be lucky enough to catch a matsuri (a Japanese festival) in progress.
Shimbashi, like the backstreets of Asakusa, is a perfect spot to capture truly authentic photos of Tokyo. I personally find the area to be at it’s best in the early evening. As the neighborhood is home to many of Tokyo’s largest companies, exhausted salarymen leaving the office and heading out to the bar with coworkers is a recurring theme you will see playing out on its streets again and again.
A big part of Shimbashi’s charm is due to its slightly grungy, edgier vibe. That’s not to say its a dangerous area by any means, but amidst the sounds and smoke drifting out of the many tiny bars tucked away under seedy looking railway tracks, much of Tokyo’s cutesy veneer often pictured by tourists gets stripped away. If you’re shooting here at night, it’s a great exercise in playing with ambient light and shadows to capture the perfect photo.
Whether you’re new to the genre of street photography or a grizzled veteran, Tokyo is undoubtedly one of the best street photography locations in the world. With its sprawling urban scenes and seemingly endless amounts of subcultures, you are practically guaranteed to come away from every shoot with interesting photos. If you want to ensure that your work stands apart from every other Japan photographer, don’t be afraid to get a little lost. Many of Tokyo’s best parts are just off the beaten path.
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